tv [untitled] March 31, 2012 11:00am-11:30am EDT
and see the exhibit. it opens may the 4th. for more information, go to oldstatehouse.com. all weekend long american history tv is featuring little rock, arkansas. learn more about little rock and find out where c-span's local content vehicles are going next online at c-span.org. next author and history professor david hacket fisher discusses the tactics and strategies that george washington used to confront challenges. he spoke at a university of oklahoma symposium on the founding of america. this is 50 minutes.
good morning. how are the acoustiacoustics? loud and clear? i have two miks on me. i'm here to tell you a story you heard before. we're going to talk about george washington. and in light of the frame that everybody else has been bringing to this occasion, that is the troubles of our time, i wanted to talk about washington and some of the troubles of his time and how he dealt with it. and i want to do it by story telling. the great attraction for me to history are these wonderful stories. i think of arthur snobl who sat down to play beethoven and he stopped and turned to the audience and said, this music is
better than it can ever be played. i think that's the way it is with these stories. they are better than they can ever be told. i want to do that also with regard to a picture that you've seen before. this is washington crossing the delaware. and next time you're in new york city, go to the metropolitan museum of art. they have just opened a new american wing. it's gigantic. it's 60 galleries of american painting. just opened a couple weeks ago. and at the center of it is this painting. when i visited, my wife and i always go there whenever we're in new york. in the olden setting, there's always seats in front of the paintin painting and the seats were always full. one day i was there and the seats were filled with japanese tourists. they were getting a lecture in japanese and they were absolutely riveted on this.
this image even said that our constitution is not traveling as well as it used to be doing, some of these stories are traveling very well. we have sold the translation rights in croatian. my publishers did not know about. and it gives a new meaning to freedom spreading through the world. but what i want to do is to invite you to look closely at this painting and to think about what's going on there. this was manual loit si's work. he went back to study painting in germany. and then after the failure of the revolution of 1848, he did this painting to inspire liberals in europe primarily
with the revolution that succeeded against long odds. and then he came to america and the painting began to travel here as well. americans love to celebrate this painting and they also love to debunk it. the americans were debunking in 1922. this inspires some really world class debunking. people have gone through this painting and they observed all the obvious problems and others that are not so. you will see washington not only standing in the boat, to which there's much discussion, but standing precaresly on one leg. i just got a letter from a reader who was an expert on swords. and the sword is correct. it was a presentation sword to washington that he was allowed to borrow for the occasion. but the expert on swords said he
made a mistake. it's buckled on backwards. the man behind him is another future president of the united states, james monroe, who was lieutenant of infantry and was in fact in this event. he's struggling to hold up an american flag that hadn't been invented yet. it would be coming in 1777. there are many people in the boat who inspired some debunking. there is that interesting figure bending over an oar in the long red shirt just behind the flag. and i got a letter from a radical feminist debunker. and i had speculated in my book as to whether that was a woman. it might well have been a woman. there were many women in these armi armies. general howe kept records and 10% of his armies were women on
the ration. and it was probably something like that number at least in the later stages of the war for the american army. but the feminist said about that person, yes, it is a woman. and look again. she's the only person in the boat who is actually row iing. there's some interesting things that are going on here. just a word about george washington. this was a man who came from a very special part of america. it was called the northern neck of virginia. it was the land between the potomac rivers. it extended a very great distance. and yet was largely owned by one aristocratic family who took up residents there.
its size was such a magnitude that in the early years, it was measured in degrees of longitude. it covered 3 degrees of longitude. this was a world in which george washington grew up. it was very top down. after the the death of his father shs the men in the fairfax family were his mentors. they raised him in that tradition of that society. he was a slave owner and not only a slave owner, he was a slave driver. we have accounts of washington actually whipping his own slaves with his hand. and before the war, he showed no sign of discomfort with his role with respect to slavery. he was also a man who aspired to a military career and he modelled his idea of military leadership on british officers with who he served in the french and indian war. so in all those three ways, this
was very hire ark call in this world he grew up in. then the continental congress appointed him to be commander in chief of the american forces. and he turned to patrick henry at the back of the room and he said, depend upon it mr. henry, for the moment i take command, you may take the ruin of my reputation. he was sure it would be big trouble. and it was when he went to new england and met an army that was mostly of massachusetts and connecticut, rhode island, new hampshire men. he took an instant dislike to each other. he wrote home about new england as if he was visiting a foreign country. he said they are a nasty and a dirty people. he said they are a leveling people. and he thought they had no
discipline, no order. they did not approve of washington and his heirs. they wrote many verses of yankee doodle, which are not sung by children today, which were about washington -- captain washington they called him -- and his slapping stallion. there was a great distance at the very start between washington and these men. and it grew more difficult as more men joined that army and it began a national army, at least through at least ten of the former colonies. and the the back country riflemen arrived in cambridge, massachusetts. you can see one at the stern of the boat and another wearing, i think, more of a 19th century fashion coonskin cap behind washington himself. and then just in the bell of the
boat, you'll see a man who is a former slave himself, who was in the marble head mariners. he had become a seaman. and a good many of those back country riflemen who came from virginia had been slave holders themselves. and when these two groups met each other in cambridge, there were words of abuse and insults and blows and then suddenly there was a riot that was larger than the battle at lexington when the revolution began. and washington rode on to the scene with the man who accompanied him through the war, it was his slave who was always riding with him. both brilliant horsemen. they rode into the middle of this riot. we have eyewitness accounts. and the eyewitness tells us that washington leaped off his horse, threw his reigns to william lee,
grabbed the rifleman in one hand and a new england er in another hand and he "spoke" with them. suddenly, there was silence on that field and then the riflemen and the new englanders ran off in all directions and washington had survived one of the first tests. but then other tests followed. there were gentlemen in virginia who joined gentlemen rankers. this was from maryland, but bending over the gunls of the boat just under the sword is a man who is some of affluence, he's wearing an oiled hat and something like a raincoat and we can just barely make out the facings of his uniform under that jacket. he belonged to a small woods
maryland regimen, which was recruited from maryland, and when they joined they insisted on signing a contract and the contract said they were enlisting not as privates, but as gentlemen. if anything that was done to them was a reflection on their honor in any way, they reserve the right to go home. and then behind them are some men from pennsylvania in those very plain blanket coats as they were called. and they were pennsylvania farmers and they were pennsylvania associaters. and they believed very much in equality. they organized committees of privates and sergeants to tell their officers what to do. and all of these men came together to form an army. they also all believed they were there because they believed in a cause. they called it the cause. but they had very different ideas of what the cause was
about. always two words were used. liberty and freedom. but those words had very different meanings. the back country riflemen, not in this version but actually in the hunting shirts that they wore, actually had in large letters across their chests "don't tread on me, give me liberty." their model was patrick henry. and it was one of the strongest expressions of liberty as an individual right that peter was talking about. but the people who came from massachusetts thought in terms of the liberty of their towns of the right of belonging to communities of free people. and they had a much more communal sense, a social sense of liberty. very different from these back countrymen. the people who came from
virginia chose for their symbol of liberty the goddess of liberty, the roman goddess. and more than a few had none at all. and in other parts of this -- the the people from pennsylvania already had a symbol of liberty, which was that great bell, as it was called the quaker bell sometimes. it wasn't called the liberty bell until the 19th century, but liberty was at its very heart, and around the crown of the bell in 1751 there was a verse from le vid cuss that was proclaim liberty throughout the land to all the inhabitants thereof. this was an idea of universal liberty. of reciprocal rights of extending the rights that one
claimed for themselves. there were four versions of the cause and all of them were in that boat. and all of them were grounded in different senses of a kind of social order. and it was washington's job to lead them. and he had some success in the first campaign, which was in boston and drove general gauge out of the city of boston, the town of boston. and then he moved his army to new york and they knew this would be the great test in the summer of 1776. this was the moment when britain, one of the great powers in the world, greater than ever before after their victories in the last war, decided they would make their maximum effort to break the american rebellion, as they called it. and they sent sailors and soldiers something like 60,000 men to new york harbor. their purpose was to capture new york and then to begin to recover the colonies one by one.
and they were commanded by two brothers, william howell and robert howell. william howell commanded the navy. and it was the largest projection of sea board power over a longer distance than any other than in the modern period. it was also the largest force that britain put into the field during the entire span of the war, which lasted longer than the civil war combined. eight years. washington's job under orders from the continental congress was to defend new york city, which he really felt to be indeci indefensible, particularly as the british commanded the sea. what followed was a total disaster for american arms. absolutely everything went wrong. one thing that went wrong was
the health of the army. there was no camp discipline. in the civil war for every soldier killed at battle, one died of disease. in world war i, it was about one to one. in the american revolution, the ratio was 8 to 1. 8 deaths from disease to 1 in co combat. and that was for the british armies and the americans were much worse and washington's army began to waste away in the summer of 1776. and then the next failure was a fi failure of intelligence. the british were very skilled at that. they built a network of american loyalists and they knew of much more about what was going on in new york than washington did, and he was taken by surprise again and again and his army was defeated with only a few small victories to claim. and the worst of it, it continued until november of
1776. and the worst of it happened when a large part of washington's army was surrounded at fort washington, which was at the northern tip of manhattan. washington was across the hudson river in new jersey watching as that army was defeated and forced to surrender and then worse than that, after the men surrendered particularly those riflemen who had been shooting the officers of the british forces, a good many of those riflemen were beaten up and some of them were put to the sword as washington watched helplessly from the other side of the hudson. washington irving, who wrote one of the first and i think one of the best biographies interviewed the people that were there.
they said washington burst into tears of helplessness and frustration. he had been responsible for that. it was his decision to defend that indefensible fort. and he began, and others around him, to wonder if this man was up to his job. and there were grave thoughts that maybe he would have to be replaced. and then he led his men in retreat across new jersey west toward pennsylvania, and he asked lieutenant monroe to standby the edge of the road in newark, new jersey, and count the troops as they went by. there were 3,000 of them left. he started with about 30,000 men. he lost nearly 90% of the army under his command. and he was beginning to despair. he wrote home to his family and he said prepare to move everything into the mountains.
he told them that he thought that the game just might be about up. but as they marched across new jersey, followed in a distance by the british army, something happened amongst these men. somehow washington dug into the reserves of his character and found the strength to try again. and he had with him another extraordinary figure, who was the journalist, as we would say, embedded in the continental army. it was thomas payne. he soldiered beside them in that campaign. they called him the common sense man. and as they were in their camps retreating in new jersey, he decided that it was time to write another pamphlet called "the american crisis."
this was the one about the times that try men's soul. it was truly so. and this was one of the first literate armies in history. they read these writings of thomas payne and it helped to remind them of that cause. and of its importance. even as they weren't all of one mind as to what it meant. so washington led his forces across the delaware, gathering all the boats as he crossed, and then he began to try to reorganize the army to try to undertake and invent a new way of leadership. he wrote back home. he said he discovered something with these new england men. he said he discovered "people unaccustomed to restraint cannot be drove. they must be led." and so he undertook to invent a way of leading. the first thing he did was to
work with his counsels of war. they had been very difficult bodies before. this was normal in those armies. it was mostly a place where the commander told subordinates what he intended to do and they did it. in america it was a little more complicated than that. washington had often fluctuated between that very aauthoritarian style he grew up with and then they sorded him to consult with other officers, which he undertook to do and it was not very successful at first. but then they worked out a way of doing it. his chief lieutenant was sent to the continental congress and in boilermaker they worked out an understanding, first of all, that the continental congress would be the supreme body representing the sovereignty of the people in america. and the generals would obey. but the generals would be allowed to get on with the war. and that was a very unstable
compromise, but in a rough way, it worked. then washington also worked out a way in which his counsels at war, unlike the british counsels, were very open. anybody could come in. many other civilians were invited. and washington subtle vated two gifts that i think were critical to his leadership. first, he had the gift of listening. he was beginning to learn to listen to these people in his army. and the other was that he had the gift of silence. he could keep quiet about his own opinions and reserve his views until the discussion had pretty much run its course. then he would intervene and nobody was in doubt as to who was running the army, but he chose to run it by that open way. and then he went about business of reordering intelligence. and he did it by creating an open system of intelligence. he ordered all of his senior
officers, his general officers, to run their own agents, to build their own networks, but to stay in touch and to tell him what they were finding. and so unlike other systems in which intelligence was very tightly held as an instrument of power, washington distributed the process of intelligence through his army. he built a new system of logistics in november and boilermaker, and he did it not as a kind of chain of logistics, but as a web in which most of the now states of the union were involved. and it was deliberately designed in that web-like form because it meant that if one piece of it broke, the other pieces could still function, and that's what happened. and this was a hugely difficult job that washington himself had to run. his published papers will run to more than 100 volumes and even
this virginia collection is only a selection. and 75% of those papers are military papers, but most of them are logistics about the logistics of the army. and washington was corresponding with all the governors of the states simultaneously and with many other people as well. and he was leading what was the first american national institution after the continental congress. the continental army became a school for the design of institutions and also a foreign idea of leadership. he also had to find a way of fighting the war. the american people had difficult requirements of their leaders. they wanted them to be bold, to take the initiative. but they wanted them to be prudent at the same time and prudent meant to be very careful with the lives of their men. and washington had to find a way
to do both of those things as well. he had to find a way to fight two very skilled armies. the hegss were not the clowns that they appear in much of the literature, but were very professional soldiers. they studied military science in that regard. and washington was up against the first team here. and the question was, how could his forces stand against such a fo formidable adversary? experience compared with what the american leaders had had. he worked on a system of changing the tactics in the continental army. he began to use artillery. there was a lot of artillery available. it could be taken from ships in philadelphia. the continental army developed a much larger ratio of artillery
to infantry than was the indication with the british and hegs forces. and all of this -- the artillery was used up front in the way the german army used some of their artillery in the second world war. what it was meant to do is stabilize and support the inexperienced american infantry and the man at the center of that was the book seller henry knox who taught himself about artillery from the books in his own bookstore. and all of this was put to work. and then washington's counsels began to get news from the intelligence networks that there was an opportunity in new jersey. the opportunity was that the british and hegss were having big problems of supplies themselves. they were at the end of a 3,000-mile chain. so they were distributed widely across new jersey to far regions
of the country side. and the forage left to theft and violence and violence to murder and murder to rape. and suddenly, the people of new jersey began to understand what this occupation might mean to them and they spontaneously began to organize small risings all across new jersey without any command from the congress or from washington. but washington's intelligence network told him what was going on. and he was able to very quickly act. he also knew he had to act in such a way that he could begin to rebuild confidence in the cause and to do that he decided in boilermaker -- in december
they decided they would cross the delaware at four places and organized all of that. it was very complex. they set it in motion on christmas night in 1776 just as a horrific storm that anybody here from the northeast will know very well about a nor'easter which came sweep iin in. heavy rains, snow, sleet, and the conditions were just almost impossible. so nearly so that of those four crossings, three of them failed. only one of them got across the river just north of new jersey, just north of trenton, new jersey. and washington led that force into the storm attacking the hegss. the hegss had expected them to come. they had spies of their own. but t